In the next couple of weeks we will be exploring the ‘one another’ injunctions in the New Testament under the theme “Christianity in action.”
The contrast between the actual and the potential in the church’s life and ministry can be very depressing.
If only we Christians were, and were doing, not just what we should but what we could, the gospel would be proclaimed more widely and powerfully, and the world would be a healthier place.
The contrast manifests itself, of course, in many areas. Thus one might think of the message itself, and the consequent need for doctrinal scrutiny. Or one might turn to the ministry, with resultant studies in homiletics, pastoral care, evangelism, and church growth.
Or attention might fall on social responsibility and a fresh examination of what it means to be a Christian in the complex issues of local, national, and international life, and how to give this practical effect.
Fundamental to all else, however, is the Christian life itself, not merely as individual discipleship, but as the common life of disciples in their mutual relations. If Christianity is many things, having the whole range and diversity of humanity itself, it is nothing if it is not a way, a life, a living, and a living together.
Success in other fields can hardly be achieved if there is failure here. It is precisely at this point that the coincidence of actual and potential is so crucial and its absence so damaging and painful.
This is why I believe this discussion is necessary and helpful. Naturally, it is not meant to be inclusive, as though Christianity were no more than a right relationship between Christians.
But it is certainly meant to be incisive. It goes to the root of much of the ineffectiveness of the church. In the form of a biblical study, it offers a challenging remedy.
Much remains to be done in other fields if the church is to recover an authentic apostolicity. But without this decisive correction no amount of other work will bring the healing which will lead to vibrant and effective community and mission.
Concern for “one another,” of course, goes against the grain of our natural humanity. This is why it is easy to talk about but hard to attain. Yet if Christianity has any reality at all, this concern belongs indeed to the potential of the Christian life.
The very essence of Christianity is conversion, a new birth, a new creation. For this reason this article must not be read as mere theory, or good advice, or impractical demand.
This life for “one another” is what God has designed for his people. He has not merely provided directions for it but made it possible through the reincarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The point of this discussion, then, is not to lay upon us a burden of introspective guilt. It is rather to set before us the fullness of our Christian potential as those whose sin is covered and for whom all things are made new.
Here is the life that should and can be ours as we give ourselves with penitence and obedience of faith to more dedicated discipleship and service.
Superficiality is a disease of our times. Shallow friendships and fragile relationship mark our society. If this were only true of society at large it would be understandable, but it is also characteristic of the church of Jesus Christ.
The tragic thing is that when people get tired of the impersonality and shallowness of the world and become desperate enough to seek identity, intimacy and warmth in the church they often do not find it there either.
The one institution of society that certainly should be able to provide for the deepest needs of mankind often doesn’t. Instead, she like the rest of society offers only surface solutions to deep rooted problems. She has become a victim of the philosophy of this age. She has allowed the world to squeeze her into its mold.
I am aware this is not only a twenty-first Century problem. The church of Jesus’ day also had the problem of conformity to the world. That is why Paul warned, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold” (Rom. 12:2a J.B. Philips).
A church that merely reflects the rest of society has nothing to offer! What does God expect of His body, the church? The Bible is clear: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received…make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1,3; cf. John 17:20-23).
Here we find the very nature of the church: she is a body called to a special relationship with God. Because of this she must reflect her Lord who called her and therefore whom she serves. When the church fulfils her calling, the world will know Jesus is who He claimed to be the Son of God, the Messiah.
The purpose of this discussion is to steer the church away from superficiality that so characterizes our contemporary Christianity and restore spiritual depth to her. Superficiality has not been deliberate.
It has occurred primarily because of the mad rush of our times. To a great extent, our high standard of living has necessitated a hectic lifestyle. The pace of modern living makes it extremely difficult to set aside enough time to develop strong relationships.
There are simply no short cuts! Deep, meaningful relationships require quality time. The lifestyle we choose then is a matter of priorities. We either allow the feverish activity of our jet age to dictate our time schedule or we value God’s intent for His body or arrange our lives accordingly. We cannot have it both ways.
It is my prayer that the church will begin to practice these “one another” injunctions and thus fulfil her calling and demonstrate the reality of the Christian faith to a lost and dying world.
By Rev. Eric D. Maefonea